The list includes many names that are instantly familiar to anyone who has ever followed MLS. Jaime Moreno and Marco Etcheverry. Roy Lassiter and Raul Diaz Arce. Christian Gomez and Ben Olsen. Eddie Pope. Alecko Eskandarian.
The list also includes several names that aren’t quite as recognizable if you haven’t been a United fan throughout the team’s existence. The list contains names like Steve Rammel, Tony Sanneh, as well as more recent names like Brian Carroll, Devon McTavish, and yes, even Francis Doe.
The past few matches have added more names to that list. It’s what happens in a season like this – in a season where seemingly everything goes against you, and yet you still persevere. Not persevere actually so much as thrive. We added the name LEWIS NEAL to that list a few weeks ago after his stoppage time game-winning goal against the Columbus Crew that sealed United’s return to the playoffs. Last night we added the names Joe Willis and Nick DeLeon to the list of United legends as well.
After the Willis save, there was little doubt left in my mind about which team would win the game. The result had already been crafted in the heavens and written in the stars. Everything that had happened in 2012 until this point had led us here. From Mark Geiger’s encroachment call in the Philadelphia Union game to Dwayne De Rosario’s injury to the multiple storms that affected the scheduling of this match. DeLeon’s goal may have won the match in the literal sense, but Willis’ penalty kick save set that win in motion.
I asked on Twitter earlier today if the name JOE WILLIS now deserves the ALL-CAPS treatment in the same way that LEWIS NEAL does. I think the consensus is probably not. The Neal goal moved us emotionally in a way that no other play has for several years. Willis’ save wasn’t quite that. But the consensus had another suggestion instead. Perhaps it is WILLIS’ BEARD that we should be capitalizing.
After the first leg of this series at RFK Stadium, I asked Chris Korb about the neck-beard that he’d been sporting and he confirmed that it was a playoff beard and that his other housemates were growing playoff beards as well. This tells us two important things: First, it tells us that Perry Kitchen may not have hit puberty yet. Second, it tells us that WILLIS’ BEARD will continue growing. This thing may require its own zip code by the time we reach the MLS Cup Final on Dec. 1.
The DeLeon goal was special for what it meant for this team. But it wasn’t just special for its importance. It was also just a really pretty goal. The oft-scorned Lionard Pajoy hit a great cross to Robbie Russell to start the sequence, while Russell’s thru-ball was perfectly timed to beat the New York Red Bulls’ back line. And then DeLeon’s finish was perfection: hard and low towards the far post.
The only thing left to ponder is whether DeLeon’s name will eventually wind up on the first list, comprised of legendary players known as some of the best in MLS history, or on the second list, comprised of players who will forever be recognized for their contributions to this organization, but receive less attention elsewhere. As the highest scoring rookie in United history and with more room to grow, DeLeon’s career arch might take him higher than we had previously realized.